Jonah Hill makes an impressive directorial debut with Mid90s from A24 Pictures. Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is a thirteen-year-old living a life in Los Angles with his bullying older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges), and a hardworking single mom Dabney (Katherine Waterson). It is apparent that Stevie has no friends, nor does he have his own identity. When the film starts out, Stevie is in awe of his older brother’s room, in particular Ian’s impressive Hip Hop CD collection. Instead of hanging out with Stevie or teaching him about Hip Hop, Ian spends his days physically bullying Stevie.
One day Stevie meets and makes friends with a skater named Ruben (Gio Gallcia) who decides to introduce Stevie to the rest of his skate crew, Ray (Na-kel Smith), Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt) and Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin). Having friends for the first time in his life, Stevie begins to skateboard and starts a downward spiral of drugs, drinking and reckless behavior. As the summer goes on, Stevie will learn the consequences of hanging out with a bad crowd.
The first thing that caught my eye inmid90s was director Jonah Hill’s decision to shoot the film on 16mm film. The cinematic vibe of an educational low budget film is what I felt watching Mid90s. Jonah Hill’s script and his decision to use mostly unknowns as Stevie’s friends was also a highlight. The profane dialogue spoken by the young actors actually comes across as natural as well.
In the role of Stevie, Sunny Sulljic finally gets a chance to display his youthful acting chops. In his previous work, Suljic never really stood out to me as an actor, and came across as bratty; however, with Mid90s he earns my respect. Lucas Hedges is another stand out as Ian, the older brother, who cannot express his emotions with his younger sibling. Finally, in the role of Ray, Na-kel Smith makes an impressive debut. Serving as an unofficial mentor to Stevie, there is a moment between Ray & Stevie that is stunning to watch. I hope that mid90s serves as an opening for more acting roles for Na-kel Smith.
In addition to some classic nineties tunes, the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is another highlight. The duo, who have not composed a film together since 2011, easily capture the confusing feelings of youth and discovery quite well.
I did have one issue with Mid90s, which involves Stevie and his first sexual experience with an older teenage girl. It may have been my parental instincts as a dad kicking in, but watching the scene was uncomfortable as the actress is clearly older than Sunny Suljic. Jonah Hill’s script could have just as well featured a kiss on the check between the two or a hug and the effect might not have raised an eyebrow.
While I was never into the skateboarding craze in my middle school days, I always thought the kids who were in a skating clique were a bit on the weird side. As I got older though, I came to the realization that other than music tastes, a lot of these kids were just like me, trying to find their place. Mid90s is not only an impressive debut from Jonah Hill, but also a reminder of just how tough it is to be a kid.
Final Grade: B